Thursday, October 21, 2010

Doing battle with demons

Much as I would like this to be about writing actual warfare with demonic entities, it is alas rather more metaphorical. The demons in question are things that I live with on a day to day basis.

Everyone has their personal demons. For some it's all things alcoholic, for others their health. Life - or perhaps Someone - appears to have gifted creative people with a disproportionate share of personal demons. There's certainly no shortage of musicians, artists or authors with tragic life stories and the kind of self-destructive behavior that usually goes with losing to one's demons.

Mine have been... loud lately. It happens. I can go months, even years, with the medication cocktail keeping everything under control. Then something shifts, shakes my balance a bit, and they're back, whispering their perverse little notions into my mind and trying to convince me that the world would be a better place without me in it.

It's not that bad yet. I've gotten better at recognizing the early warning signs and doing something about it. One of the somethings is - surprise! - splatting to everyone I consider half-way friendly about what's going on, on the grounds that the more I talk it out, the more chance there is something someone says will be the right trigger to chase them off. This time.

I even know what's causing this outbreak - I'm mentally and emotionally worn out. Unfortunately, I'm also not getting any kind of time away until Christmas, when a much-delayed cleanup of the house has to happen. Since the layoffs were announced at the start of the year, there's been no letup in the constant grind of too much to do, not enough time to do it, and everything is more critical than everything else. Add in project scope blowout and a whole bunch of other work stress factories, big and little, and a bunch of family-related stress, and I've run out of me.

The real problem with this, at least as far as the Mad Genius Club is concerned, is that it plays havoc with my writing when this sort of thing hits. I can go weeks without writing anything when an episode hits - or worse, everything I write turns darker-than-dark.

How do you get past these crashes? What - if anything - helps you to dig out of the hole and get back on the level again?

19 comments:

David Barron said...

Lots and lots and lots of exercise for depression, and lots and lots and lots of work for mania. If I'm going to be less-than-sane, I might as well be healthy and productive.

And absolutely no caffeine. That never helps.

Limited social drinking is acceptable. Emphasis on social.

MataPam said...

The worst of my demons were left behind when I graduated from college and left home for an out of town job, pretty much simultaneously.

The only time I backslid, I simplified my life as much as possible, and worked on building mental barriers to not allow myself to care about things other than the identified basics - kids and husband.

I had the advantage of this happening prior to this electronic age. No cell phones; once I was out of the house, no one could bother me. I was the sole computer user in my family and in-laws; no one used it to find me and dump on me.

Kate, it's hard, but you need to identify the truly important things, and the stress points. See how many stressors you can avoid altogether, and raise mental shields to help yourself to not care about the remainder.

Work stress looms large - but does the company really matter to you? If it folded up tomorrow would you grieve or celebrate? If your only problem would be finding another sourse of income, you need to raise those mental shields and make them solid. When you walk out the door every evening, shed the pressure. Visualize the stress as watter in a bucket, balanced on your head, perhaps. Building up all day, becoming heavier and more precarious. When you walk out the door, dump that bucket of water on the shruberies and throw the bucket as far away as you can. Walk away, suddenly light and free.

Family? Can you help? Or are they using you to dump their problems on? Make yourself less accessable. Get caller ID. Stop answering the phone three times out of four when they call.

If all you can write is dark, then write it and get it out of your soul. Visualize each word as a chunk of overburden holding you down, but rolling away forever as you write it. Write yourself back into the light.

Kate C Neal said...

Hi, Kate. Wanted to say I thought this was a brave post to write. I like what you say about being able to recognize warning signs. I think that's a key to successfully navigating all types of life's difficulties; if you can maintain enough objectivity to recognize what's happening, you can be sure you have the capacity to do something about it. It's not easy, this life!

Synova said...

I had to quit facebook. I just can't do it.

Getting enough sleep is important. When stuff starts getting to me I tend to avoid bed because my brain will go to those problems and then I can't sleep at all. I don't know what to do about that. Maybe go to bed early but read easy romances before turning out the light.

Work is an issue and this economy has been a long term stress, even for those employed. I was talking to my husband about this a few days ago. I think we are both depressed to some extent because of the economy even though he's got a very good job and gets paid well. The fact that the (teen-aged) kids can't find work means a little extra burden, not that they'd pay rent or buy groceries, but the feeling that we can't pay for their extra stuff, driving lessons or a junker car for example. And it hangs there long term, pulling a person down. Also, the extra feeling that there might not be other jobs to go to makes the one you've got feel sort of trap-like.

Talking about it together seemed to help a little bit. Particularly as we weren't blaming each other for anything. Also, I think it's important to set some other things aside, just a little bit, and concentrate on that primary supportive relationship or on yourself. The kids will be *fine*. They really will.

Particularly with the kids lately I've had to tell myself (sternly!) that people get through stuff and it's not my responsibility to agonize or lose sleep over their choices to do it the hard way.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Kate, I know where you're coming from.

I think a lot of people are putting up a brave front, hiding the demons.

When things get to much for me I go to 'my happy place'. It's somewhere off in my mind and I take a holiday there, all floaty and warm.

I guess it is meditation, although I didn't realise what I was doing was meditation until a couple of years ago when someone pointed it out.

Dave Freer said...

I know exactly where you're coming from, Kate. It's hard to offer good advice because I am battling to deal effectively with it myself. Still, I find absorbing escapism important (websurfing doesn't cut it) because that gives the resiliance time to recover. The other thing I find good taking on some small goals I CAN actually do something about (as opposed to big ones that rest on publishers or agents, which I can't do anything about.) At the moment I have a war-campaign on dandelions on the back lawn. I only allow myself 10 minutes every half day, but i can turn around and say, 'oh look something visible has happened'. Besides I get to stick a knife through their roots. I childishly call them 'demon'names.

hugs and hing in

Kate said...

David,

It sounds like you've got a good system going. I'm glad it works well for you - a lot of the art of dealing with it is working out what's effective.

Kate said...

Matapam,

Excellent advice, all. Here's some more info: I genuinely enjoy my job, and like the place and the people. Getting another one would be difficult, but probably not impossible, and even if I did get another one, I'd probably be facing similar work stresses.

Family, the problem is that my mother is recovering from a (thankfully minor) stroke, but can't drive as a result, and the two siblings who live close enough to help out are doing buggerall, so mum is totally alone for days at a stretch. So I'm fielding daily 90 minute calls from her, just because she's so desperate for human contact.

It stinks, but... what do you do? All I really want out of the family situation is knowing mum has what she needs.

Kate said...

Kate C,

Thank you. It's been an interesting path, learning the warning signs, and learning ways to manage when things do implode.

Too easy would be boring, but right now I could use a little less interesting.

Kate said...

Synova,

I quit facebook a while back, and absolutely don't miss it.

It is a difficult time, between the economy and wondering if your employer will still be around in 12 months (I like where I work, but another year like last year will kill us - financially the company is doing pretty well so far this year - but there's still last year to recoup). When you're seeing people you care about suffer from it, it gets so much harder - especially when you need to draw the line to stop other people's problems from dragging you down to the point where you can't help anyone at all.

That's always one I've had trouble with, knowing when to pull back so I don't get sucked in too.

Kate said...

Rowena,

I think you're right about that: the more stresses people are trying to handle, the more their demons will bite. That's one reason I externalize it as "the demons" - if it's not part of me I don't feel guilty about it and add to my problems.

It sounds like your version of meditation works well for you. I'll have to try something like that and see if it helps (I've always been lousy at that kind of thing. Busy brain, never shuts up.)

Kate said...

Dave,

Oh, yeah. If it's something that occupies you so that you can't think about something else while you're doing it, it does give some space. This is why I play assorted online games at an obsessive level.

War with the dandelions sounds like a good way to deal with it! You get to kill something, call it horrible names, and a visible achievement.

I'm hanging on. And in. Things will settle down and I'll recover - they always do, eventually.

Chris McMahon said...

Look, it sounds terribly simple, but honestly walking helps me tremendously. Something about it slows down my mind and clears my emotions.

This book is excellent: "Healing your Emotional Self: A powerful program to help you raise your self-esteem, quiet your inner critic and overcome your shame" By Beverly Engel.

Get the book. You won't be disappointed.

MataPam said...

Kate,

It sounds like your mother needs to get on facebook. Find people with similar interests to "chat" with. Can anyone help her get started, find some groups she'd like? That looks like the best way for you to gain a bit of breathing room.

The beauty of computer "chat" is that you can run off and do something, then come back and answer. And if she has any speech problems, who's to know?

If she was on your friends list, anything she posted even chatting to other people, would be there on your page with a time stamp, so you'd have a way to check on her, even if you didn't join the conversation.

Obviously you would have to seriously limit your participation, so as to not solve one problem and create a worse one.

I'm glad you like your company and work. A bad job is one more stress.

Chris L said...

Hi Kate,

I know what it's like when you feel the demons creeping up on you. I used to find the fear of them getting a hold of me was worse than anything.

Lying in bed, not sleeping - obsessing. Getting up and not wanting to do anything. Disappointing friends. Panicing. And having people tell me how happy I should be, people who loved life for no other reason than the sun was up and they were warm.

I found that if I could sleep, I could beat it. And to sleep I stared at the back of my eyelids until I saw the stars. It's meditation and it worked for me.

Physical activity with a team or a companion can help too. Like Chris and Dave say, walking, or gardening.

I hope things work out for you quickly.

Kate said...

Chris M,

Thanks for the book recommendation: I'll definitely check that one out.

As for walking... alas, it doesn't shut my mind up. Hiking tends to work better, but for some reason there's a bit of a problem with trying to do that on a work day. Funny, that...

Kate said...

Matapam,

Mum's technophobic... She's managed to sort out skype, after I installed it for her and got her a headset, and she can do email. More than that and it's flat out panic.

Which doesn't stop me threatening to sic her on certain friends as their publicist (because once she understood how the industry worked, she'd be VERY good at it).

Kate said...

Chris L,

I've also found that pushing until I'm exhausted helps me to sleep without the demons, but it bites back in the form of narcolepsy issues.

Honestly, when they were handing out bodies, they gave me a dud. Next I'll be shambling around in search of braaaaainnzzzzzzz!

Mike said...

Couple of pointers -- first, Feeling Good by David Burns (dated, it looks as if he's written some followup books). Second, Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman (again, he's got other books out there). Oddly, I read these because people said, they were so impressed with my "natural" optimism, which tends to throw me into depression. Anyway, they're both pretty good, I think.

One of the keys from Seligman's work -- when we look at events, how do we evaluate them? In particular, persistence, pervasiveness, and personal control. If we tend to say bad stuff is permanent (persistent), that it goes on everywhere (pervasive) and that it happened because of me but I can't do anything about it (personal control) -- welcome to pessimism and learned helplessness. Flip side gives us optimism. And a whole bunch of possible shades in the middle.

One of the suggested exercises might be useful -- ABCDE Journals? Adversity, Belief, Consequence, Dispute, Energize. The idea is pretty simple. Keep a journal of events in your life that upset us (adversity). For each one, we're going to work through the steps of cognitive therapy:
1. Recognize automatic thoughts
2. Dispute with evidence
3. Re-attribute: make different explanations
4. Distract yourself
5. Recognize and challenge assumptions

Start by writing down as objectively as possible what happened (Adversity). Then put down what you believe about that -- how you interpret it. Third, write out the consequences of thinking that way. What happens? Fourth, dispute it. Is this really true? Evidence, different explanations, distraction -- one way or another, dispute those beliefs. And E is for energize, which means doing something about it.

Take a look at Seligman's book, if you haven't seen it. I think it's pretty good.